David Bordwell (2002) has described contemporary mainstream cinema as a cinema of intensified continuity. When we combine Bordwell's analysis with that of recent cognitive work on attention, especially with work on edit blindness, we discover some intriguing results. For example, the increased rate of cutting in contemporary cinema serves to keep our attention continually aroused, but, at the same time, that which arouses our attention—the increased number of cuts—becomes decreasingly visible. That is, the greater the number of cuts made in the services of continuity editing, the less we are able to spot them. If, while watching contemporary mainstream cinema, the attention of viewers is aroused but viewers are decreasingly capable of spotting the reasons why this is so (i.e., the cuts themselves), then does this also serve to make contemporary mainstream cinema “post-ideological,” because it concerns itself only with “intensified” experiences? Or, as this article argues, does the sheer speed of contemporary mainstream cinema renew the need for the ideological critique of films?
James E. Cutting and Ayse Candan
This article investigates historical trends of mean shot durations in 9,400 English-language and 1,550 non-English-language movies released between 1912 and 2013. For the sound-era movies of both sets there is little evidence indicating anything other than a linear decline plotted on a logarithmic scale, with the English-language set providing stronger results. In a subsample of 24 English-language movies from 1940 to 2010 the decline in shot duration is uniform across 15 shot classes, a result that supports a broad “evolutionary” account of film change. The article also explores the proportions of these shot classes across years and genres, with the results showing that 25 percent of the decline in shot duration is due to a shift away from shot classes with longer-than-average shot durations towards those with shorter-than-average durations, and 8 percent of the decline is due to the increased use of shot scales in which characters appear larger.